This blog has MOVED!

Please visit for the most updated content. All these posts and more can be found over at the new URL.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A question of ethics

A horse in your boarding stable has chest and belly abscesses that is indicative of pigeon fever. The vet is called and the abscess treated, in the meantime you are told to treat it like it is pigeon fever. Several months ago a boarder let you know that a different local boarder stable was having an outbreak of the disease, but was not quarantining the facility, or notifying people trailering in. Several of your boarders go to this stable for various events, so it’s very possible this is pigeon fever.

What do you do?
Do you do what my boarding stable decided to do?
  • Instruct the boarder not to tell anyone
  • Do not notify anyone, including those boarders who regularly trailer out of the facility for lessons at other facilities
  • Keep the horse in its current pen with no monitoring or control (horse can be petted and touched with no restrictions).

I would hope not. I would hope that you would notify those of us that regularly travel to other facilities for instruction and competition and not place those facilities and horses at risk. I would hope that you would make the horse unavailable to the casual passerby by either moving it into a remote location or placing signs on the pen that say “Don’t touch me!”. Signs plastered all over the facility that scream “pigeon fever” are not appropriate, especially when it’s unconfirmed, but I think some notice and precautions ARE required.

The boarder caught in the middle of this told me because she would have felt awful if I she hadn’t told me and then Farley had come down with it. So, she told me – which I am grateful for. I can take precautions and also make informed decisions about where I take my horse and what I do with her.

I was very angry last night. How dare the BO put my horse at risk? And all the facilities and horses that may have come into contact with mine if I was competing and training? (Farley and I are currently on a 3 week vacation from lessons so fortunately it isn’t an issue right now). What if I had petted my friends horse when she wasn’t there one evening, and then gone out to Farley’s pen?

I think some very simple things can be done by a stable that promote education and awareness without causing panic.

Before confirmation of the disease:

  • Make the horse unavailable to the causual passerby through virtue of location or signage.
  • A heads up to those boarders (at our stable, this would be 2-3 people) traveling to competitions or other facilities, that there might be an issue and they need to seriously consider the potential risk and perhaps discuss with the owners of the other facilities before hand.
  • Change the feeding and watering rotations so the affected horse is taken care of last.

(Notice that none of these recommendations involves prematurely giving notice to everyone and the general public and worrying them unnecessarily, but may help minimize the severity of the outbreak while you are waiting for confirmation).

After confirmation of the disease

  • Post a fact sheet on pigeon fever in a common area. Hand it out to boarders that have questions.
  • Ask the vet for instructions for how boarders should monitor their horses for the disease and what precautions can help prevent the spread of disease. This can include temping, hand sanitizers, not sharing grooming equipment or tack, staying out of common hitch rail and arena areas if your horse comes down with the disease etc.
  • Develop a plan of how you are going to monitor the horses that are boarded with very little owner participation (ie not monitored close), without unintentionally spreading the disease by handling each one of them.
  • Strongly recommend that horses do not travel on and off the property until outbreak has cleared. Post this is a public place. Maybe mail it out to the boarders.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened here (a horse may or may not have an infectious disease and they keep it a secret), but it is the worst. This is why Farley is in a back pen, away from foot and horse traffic, around horses that are rarely used or taken out of their pens, on a dead end corner.

Maybe I’m totally over-reacting. What are your thoughts? I’m less pissed this morning and more resigned. I think the trick is not to have any expectations other than if this was a self care facility, and then when I get more than that, be happily surprised. Confirmation of the culture should come today. Definitely crossing my fingers!


  1. If it isn't the first time it has happened, you know what to expect from the barn owners. No, it isn't professional. Little in the horse world is. Personally, I would make friends with the other boarders, keep each other in the loop about health/safety issues and otherwise keep to myself.

  2. Sounds like you're talking to the other boarders which is good - you can take action to protect each other. Not very ethical behavior by the BO, but I expect they're afraid of losing business - not a good excuse but a human one. Are you stuck with this barn?

  3. Been there, done that. BO refused to accept strangles was present till half the barn had it. Tried to keep it a secret. Ludicrous. One of the many reasons I am no longer there. I will not be anywhere my horse's health will be put casually at risk.

  4. Yep, i got ripped up and down once for even leaving the s-word (strangles) on the barn answering machine. "How dare you scare people like that." Thank god i'm not boarding there any more.

  5. Fore-warned is fore-armed. Take the precautions for your horse, alert the other boarders, and as soon as humanly possible, GTHO of there.

    I've seen this behavior before, but haven't experienced it up close. If my horse got injured or infected because a barn owner refused to take reasonable precautions, I would be sending the vet bills to the BO *and* getting my horse out.
    (bill + loss of income = learning experience for BO? Maybe?)

    Fortunately, my mares are at home now, so it's not an issue anymore.

  6. This kind of behavior at boarding facilities infuriates me! I dealt with a similar situation some years ago with strangles. I was so upset that the barn owner tried to keep it a secret. He was putting all of our horses at risk. I left as soon as I was able. We have kept our horses at home for the last six years...sometimes it's a pain to have to get up and go feed at the crack of dawn...but I wouldn't have it any other way! :)

  7. A boarder next door had her horse vaccinated (?) for strangles and then he promptly starting showing signs of the disease. One of the older ponies was sick before sanitation measures were taken. A couple lesson horses also fell under the weather. To make matters worse, we lost money on a fundraiser with a clinician which we had waited years to line up. The boarder still maintains that the emergence of the disease was a mystery. It was totally infuriating. Thank goodness my horse did not catch the sickness over the fence.

  8. I don't have much of an opinion about the behavior of your boarding management, but I do know that pigeon fever is not something you can pass to your horse. It's spread by a specific fly that must be infected and then bite your horse. So, the best thing your barn manager could have told people was to use extra fly spray as a precaution and to make sure that when the abscesses were lanced to dispose of the puss, which is contagious, don't just leave it in the garbage where flies can get in to it. Just to play devils advocate, I have found that people tend to panic about things like this without first knowing the facts.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.